The 1998 graduate is a cowboy in the U.S. Army’s Air Cavalry, and since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, he’s been flying Kiowa helicopters and climbing his way up the military ladder. The climb landed him first in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2002 as part of a peacekeeping force, and more recently deep into the heart of Iraq, where he came nearly face to face with Hussein.
In December 2003, he joined the 1st Squadron of the 10th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit. The unit had been deployed since the war began the previous March, and it was in need of pilots.
“When I walked in to meet the squadron commander, he immediately stated he was extremely short pilots and was glad to see me,” Mattingley, a 27-year-old captain, wrote recently from Iraq.
Three days after his arrival, his unit participated in the capture of Hussein in Al Dwar, about four miles from Tikrit. Mattingley would not reveal details but said they were present when Hussein was discovered in his spider hole.
Most of the time, though, Mattingly’s squadron flies reconnaissance and security missions at night. They don night-vision goggles and soar into the darkness with limited 20/70 vision, no depth perception and everything an eerie shade of green.
“Nothing is more difficult than flying a helicopter under night-vision goggles five feet above the trees at 60 mph trying to locate bad guys and employing your weapons systems,” he writes. “Power lines are our greatest fear. They are difficult to see under goggles. We constantly scan while flying. There are firefights or mortar attacks every night. We do it for the men and women standing next to us.”
While he enjoys dropping candy from his helicopter door to the Iraqi children playing soccer, he’s looking forward to his next mission: teaching American youth. He plans on earning a master’s degree so he can teach at the United States Military Academy at West Point.